14 April 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
     
“Given the unfolding of recent events, the following matters require clarification”, Siún Ní Raghallaigh statement in full
04 Mar 2024 : News Desk
Following her resignation as chairwoman of RTÉ on February 23rd, Siún Ní Raghallaigh has released a statement that details what she calls her “enforced dismissal” designed to “traduce [her] reputation”.

Siún Ní Raghallaigh resigned after Minister Catherine Martin failed to express confidence in her in a Prime Time interview amid claims that the Minister had been misinformed about an exit package for RTÉ chief financial officer (CFO) Richard Collins.

The statement Ní Raghallaigh has released challenges Minister Martin’s series of events.

Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s statement in full is available below:

On being appointed chair, I never intended to become involved in any political controversy – the last thing I want is additional damage being caused to the public service broadcaster by challenging certain assertions made by the Minister. However, given the unfolding of recent events, the following matters require clarification.

On accepting the offer to become chair I did so with one purpose, this was to assist reform the State broadcaster with a key focus on developing a strategy for the future, whilst dealing with all issues that were uncovered during my tenure. I dedicated every single day of the last 15 months to this cause and put my personal life on hold such was the importance I placed on this task.

During Thursday, February 22nd, a series of telephone conversations happened between Department officials and myself where officials relayed messages from the Minister and they relayed my responses back to the Minister. This was not an unusual way for the Minister to communicate with me. It is not true that there were scheduled/formal monthly meetings between the Minister and myself as has been claimed. In my 15 months as chair, I only had a handful of meetings directly with the Minister. In the Minister’s presentation to the [Oireachtas] Media Committee, it was stated that ‘the direct line of communication between a Minister for media and RTÉ is the chair of the board’. On the whole this took the form of communications with her Department officials.

Conversations with the officials were two-way. Whilst, I have no way of knowing what was relayed back to the Minister; I have no reason to think the information shared was anything other than the content of what I stated to the officials. I have always been forthcoming with information in my frequent updates with the Department, I had no reason or motivation to withhold any information. I have always had an open and constructive relationship with all the Department officials, including the previous secretary general. I hold them all in high regard.

I repeat that it was my practice to maintain regular (often daily) contact with the Department. As the minutes of the remuneration committee meeting (Oct 9th) show, my role as chair of the remuneration committee was to inform the Department of the discussions that had taken place, and I did so. I advised the then secretary general on October 10th of the decision of the remuneration committee, I thought no more about it nor did I receive any follow-up queries from the Department or the Minister in relation to it before exit packages came into the public domain.

Given the breadth of the challenges facing RTÉ, I had moved on to concentrate on several pressing issues conscious of the urgency of restoring confidence of the staff in their employer and, insofar as it was in our power, confidence of licence fee payers in the broadcaster. This was urgent, not least to continue to arrest the decline in licence fee compliance since the controversy began last Summer and which, regretfully, was not assisted by the Minister who said she would refuse to tell licence payers what to do. In addition, as chair I was working with a board with two vacancies from Sept/Oct rising to three vacancies in January.

I wrote to the Minster in early August 2023 to advise of one of those upcoming vacancies, bringing her attention to the urgent need for certain skillsets that would be essential for any new incoming board members, prioritising financial/accounting skills. Given the difficulties facing the organisation, I found that the reduction in the number of board members and in particular the lack of financial expertise within the board lay heavily on me. However, no appointments were made. For context, this absence of financial acumen on the board was also in addition to the vacancy in the role of CFO in an organisation in deep financial trouble since last July.

The Clarification:

Reference has been made to ‘numerous’ enquires on the exit package for Mr Collins at two ministerial meetings of which I attended with the DG [director general] of RTÉ – however, the fact is that these enquiries were outside the agenda of the meetings and were mentioned at the end of the meetings that dealt with other substantive elements. Once I realised that I had inadvertently given the Minister the wrong answer to a question from her at the end of a meeting on Monday, February 19th and again at a meeting on Wednesday 21st, I notified the Department that I wanted to make a clarification at 10.07am on Thursday, February 22nd.

The error was a lapse of memory – nothing more. I had no motivation or gain to obfuscate on the matter. This was a matter that had been dealt with in October 2023, almost five months prior. Mr Collins’ exit package had been discussed by the remuneration committee on October 9th 2023 which I attended and was officially approved by the Committee on the morning of October 10th 2023. On my call made to the Department on the 22nd February, I also reminded the officials that on the morning of October 10th, I had spoken by phone with the then secretary general about the October 9th meeting and had given her the details of that meeting and what in broad terms had been approved by the Remuneration Committee in relation to Mr Collins’s exit package. The exit package was also discussed in more than passing references at the Public Accounts Committee [PAC] on 12th October 2023. In addition, a letter was also sent from RTÉ to the Department on November 30th which outlined in writing the new terms of reference for the remuneration committee.

The questions posed to me in relation to the exit packages from last October were left of field and rehashing an issue that was dealt with. To raise it five months later was and remains baffling to me.

For context, I would also draw your attention to the RTÉ DG’s statement issued on Friday February 23rd in relation to his recollection of the Minister’s questions at the meetings during that week which supports this position.

Subsequent Calls with Department officials:

After the clarification I made on February 22nd, the first response from the officials was to relay the Minister’s disappointment and indicate that a formal letter stating this would be sent to me. I asked them to request the Minister not to send the letter because it would not be in the best interests of RTÉ as it would in effect, put this matter, which had been dealt with at the remuneration committee a number of months ago, right back in the arena with no positive purpose and would make my position as chair untenable.

It is inaccurate to state anything other than that I told the secretary general of the Department about the decision of the remuneration committee in respect of the Richard Collins case. I have no doubt at all on that matter. After all, the purpose of the phone call on October 10th 2023 was to report on the outcome of the mediation with Mr Collins’ lawyers the day before as instructed to the remuneration committee and recorded in the minutes. I explained this when asked on Thursday February 22nd and, when pressed, I conceded that I couldn’t possibly know if the detail of my conversation with the secretary general was passed on to the Minister as I was not a party to that conversation but that I would imagine that it had.

A different construction is now being put on that, my use of the word ‘imagine’ is now being misrepresented.

During the course of the following 9.5 hours, following my phone call at 10.07 to the Department on February 22nd there were a number of calls between Department officials and myself. During these conversations, I was actively trying to get my point across as to how a letter from the Minister would be damaging to the urgent work the board and the Department were engaged in. I was suggesting to the officials that this is a time when we need the Minister’s support, that I owned my mistake, I apologised for the error, and would the Minister consider acknowledging and accepting the clarification – this would be the best course of action for the organisation and not cause a significant impasse to the current work on reform being undertaken at RTÉ.

There was no invitation at any point during these conversations for me to meet or talk with the Minister directly (of course I would have made myself instantly available to meet or talk with her by phone.) However, later in the day a meeting was suggested, but only in the context of the overall letter expressing disappointment.

I said that sending the letter would in effect make my position untenable as it would reflect the Minister expressing no confidence in me and this would mean I would have to resign.

In response, it was said to me that the Minister wanted to get the letter out to me so that if she were asked any question on this matter during her Prime Time interview, she could say that she had sent this letter to me. It was now apparent that a plan was afoot, somehow involving the letter and the Prime Time appearance and that would not be changed by any input from RTÉ. It began to appear that the letter was as much being dictated by the upcoming Prime Time interview as anything surrounding my clarification about the Collins case.

The letter was issued to me by the Minister’s private secretary at 19.36.

I discussed the situation with the DG and the company secretary and we decided to reconvene after we saw the broadcast.

We reconvened after the interview on Prime Time, and after hearing the content of the interview agreed that I had no option but to resign. It seemed somewhat incredulous to me that the Minister cited ‘leaking’ when in fact there was just one media enquiry to which a response was due the next morning.

An emergency meeting of the board was convened, and a statement was drafted.

My resignation letter was emailed to Minister’s private secretary at 00.45 on Friday morning, February 23rd.

The press query:

At around 3.30pm on Thursday 22nd, I was alerted of a press query to the board in relation to the exit packages of Mr Rory Coveney and Mr Richard Collins. A response was drafted and, as was normal practice, I notified the Department of the query and also of our proposed response. I was asked by the Department as to the deadline for response, which I queried and was advised that it could be pushed to the following morning, Friday 23rd. I was told by the Department that it would definitely be better if I could do that, push to the next morning. At 5.30pm, I asked communications to delay the response until the following morning. At no point during these exchanges on the press query was I told of any other similar press queries to the Department.

Good Governance:

The rule book on good governance may prescribe regular contact between Minister and chair as the norm but, from day one, I had no choice but to accept the practice of regular contact between chair and secretary general. Although I believe this practice worked well but it is not typical. It is also contrary to the impression given by the Minister to your committee members on Tuesday, February 27th. My experience over the past 15 months has been of a Minister actively taking a hands-off approach whilst delegating through her officials.

Conclusion:

If the Minister had decided that she no longer wanted me as chair, that is her privilege. However, I cannot remain silent about the manner of my enforced dismissal which seemed designed to traduce my reputation.

I do not claim to understand why an issue disposed of on October 10th 2023 and subsequently discussed in length at the PAC should be revived in February 2024 but not in the intervening period. I do not claim that the severance package of the former CFO was in any way unimportant, but in my mind, it was historical as I, along with the DG, wrestled with many current challenges. I also want to record my conviction that, quantum aside, the restructure programme in RTÉ would not be possible without resort to negotiated severance arrangements.

The work of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sports & the Media is of vital importance in the context of public service media. It serves a significant role to uncover the truth and expose misinformation. I hope all the members of the committee will continue to press for the expedient political resolution to the funding of public service media on this island. For a long time, successive governments have avoided putting the public service broadcaster on a sound financial footing, resulting in the disablement of RTÉ's ability to change and respond dynamically to the global changes that threaten democracies and independent reportage. If anything comes from this latest debacle, my wish is that it will bring about focus on what is really important here for our democracy and our citizens.

I really enjoyed working with DG Kevin Bakhurst and the board and we were excited about reaching our destination. Over the past 15 months as chair, my work has involved intensive and extensive inputs as the DG and the board worked through a range of matters. I hope that this work will continue, and that the DG is supported with a full complement of Board to expediate transformation and reform.





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